Northern Ireland and South Korea look to be evenly matched
Belfast tussle could be tight
FreeSports, 2pm Saturday
Four months after enduring World Cup heartache against Switzerland, Michael O’Neill’s men are back in action in the first meeting between Northern Ireland and South Korea.
It’s a wide-open heat according to bookmakers, who can barely separate the sides. You could get 2-1 or thereabouts for all three outcomes on Friday.
Coach Tae-Yong Shin has culled a squad largely from K-League superpowers Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors – their entire back four are from that club – with a handful of European stars added to the mix.
Key among those players are the skipper, Swansea’s Sung-Yeung Ki, and Tottenham’s in-form frontman Heung-Min Son, who has bagged seven in his last five for Spurs.
Shin prefers a 4-4-2 formation though may err towards a 4-3-3 if he decides he doesn’t have anyone capable enough of partnering Son up front.
The Koreans are unbeaten in eight – the last three of which were internationals staged in Turkey in January, proving they can perform in different continents. They are unbeaten in their last six matches played outside the Korean Republic.
As for Northern Ireland, there’s a newish look to the group with Chris Brunt and Will Grigg opting out and a number of old faces – notably skipper Steve Davis and frontman Kyle Lafferty – pulling out.
O’Neill can still send out a team packed with international experience, a well-established back four and a reputation for giving nothing away.
Their last 14 friendly internationals have produced 18 goals and it’s difficult to imagine this one bucking the trend for low scores.
All of that, of course, is factored into the prices – both teams not scoring is a 4-6 shot, under 2.5 is 4-9 – so there’s no edge to be found if you fancy something dreary.
In fact, it would be no surprise if the teams cancel each other out and play out a low-scoring draw.
1pt 2-1 bet365
Captain Steve Davis, Kyle Lafferty, Niall McGinn and Stuart Dallas are injured. Shayne Lavery and Paul Smyth have been drafted in. Chris Brunt and Will Grigg didn’t want to play.
Crystal Palace’s Chung-Yong Lee and veteran striker Dong-Gook Lee have been overlooked.
Both teams have scored in just one of Northern Ireland’s last 21 internationals.
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